A story about my never-ending obsessions and four friends with M-names that helped me fall in love with embroidery along the way.
Chapter 1: The idea
In August of 2019, I had been living in London for two months and thankfully had the support of my friend Kalyn (the literal reason why I kept my sanity and felt less alone while moving solo across the world), which led to a number of connections with fellow expats that have made my experience abroad feel more homey. Kalyn hosted a group meet-up in mid-August where a few of us ventured out to climb Primrose Hill and meet each other. At the event, there was this girl from California who had just arrived a week prior and would be spending four months studying abroad in London. Her name is Marisa (first M name!), and she was wearing this gorgeous acid-wash denim jacket adorned with patches throughout. I complimented her on the jacket and she explained it belonged to her mom a few decades ago, and the patches were of the countries she had traveled to thus far, which were almost 50 at the time (and she’s only 24!).
In that second, something in my brain clicked and I knew this would be my next project. How had I never seen this before? It’s the PERFECT souvenir. I have been collecting shot glasses from my travels for years, but the problem with those is that they’re fragile, often heavy, sometimes bulky, and thus my collection is currently wrapped in newspapers and stowed in boxes from two moves ago. I also began my shot glass collection late into my travels, and I didn’t think I’d have much luck finding cool shot glasses of those first locations without going back.
Chapter 2: The Jacket:
Though I was really excited to get started on the jacket, I really didn’t know where to begin. I am a perfectionist who gets in her own way often and this was one of those times. Where would I find the jacket? I wasn’t even sure what I wanted the jacket to look like – did I want it with a fleece lining or without? Thankfully, our second M-name came into the picture: Marina. Marina is a gorgeous friend from Miami who was in London for work and made sure to get in an extra day in the city to stay with me and show me around (because even though I lived here, she learned and knew more about London than I had in two full months). At the time, I was telling everyone and anyone who’d listen about my jacket dreams and when I showed her the picture she was on board.
Marina had some clothes to exchange and wanted to do some shopping on Regent Street, and took me to Zara, a store I have stayed away from for years because I had this idea in my head that it was expensive (not sure why). As we perused the second floor for fun things to try on, Marina noticed a rack of denim jackets and she grabbed one and asked me what I thought about it. It. Was. PERFECT! It was denim but super soft, brand new but with that heavy distressed style, and it had copper buttons which I adored. I was immediately sold on it, and now it was time to get started on the patch selection process. If I hadn’t found the jacket then, I wouldn’t have been as eager to get to the patches and I would’ve probably procrastinated on it a lot more.
Chapter 3: Patchdemonium
Here’s the thing about me: my obsessions tend to take over my life. Once I had the jacket, I started a list of the countries where I had been so I could start tracking down patches from all those places (which is MUCH easier than finding shot glasses). In that moment I realized I had visited 29 countries (well, some are territories but I had to travel to them so I’m counting them as independent because it’s my jacket and I make the rules) and I was about to add a new one to the list thanks to a work trip… and it just so happened I would be turning 30 years less than old two months after that. You mean to tell me I realized I would hit 30 countries by 30 years old (and right on time to get the jacket done to wear on my birthday?) Yes sir!
So I went on my work trip to Germany while my head was busy engineering the patchwork to come. I had been to Berlin before, so Germany was not considered new territory, but I was going to a few new cities for the first time: Heidelberg, Mannheim, and Baden Baden. After my trip, I had planned a weekend vacation in Belgium with two friends, and that was going to be the 30th country. As I looked forward to my new patch acquisition, I was talking to my friend and coworker and M-name #3, Mica, when she reminded me of all the things I’m obsessed with (because we have lots in common): Harry Potter, Disney, Game of Thrones, you name it, we live and breathe it. Mica left me with a mission: figure out how I could incorporate all my loves into the project, a task that seemed impossible at the time. My main priority was to avoid this jacket would become a tacky and impossibly heavy accessory.
Chapter 4: The Patches and my lovestory with Embroidery
I started going down my list of countries and looking on Etsy, Amazon, eBay, etc. for patches to match, all of which went into a crazy spreadsheet where I even had multiple options for some countries. I wanted the patches to match my personality and also be a perfect reminder of each trip. While some countries had plenty to choose from, a few others (particularly those in Central and South America) had only the flag or this style patch options. I didn’t want repetitive patch styles so I figured, with my background in crafting, surely I could learn to embroider?
I looked it up and found this awesome video that was short and made the process look really simple. I headed to my nearest craft store in the area, I purchased the only embroidery hoop they had, two embroidery needles, and a few basic thread colors to start. I started right away without knowing what I was doing at all, and before long I had my first finished product: Guacardo, representing Mexico (and my endless love for avocados).
While I was excited to have been able to incorporate two of my obsessions in the patch/jacket, I knew I wouldn’t have as much luck matching up all the other ones. And in walked the fourth and final M to get it all figured out: Meaghan. Meg is a dear friend of mine who was so excited for my move to London that she booked a trip to see me (and have her first London experience) within three short months of my arrival. It was amazing to have her here for a few days, and it was my first time exploring all the major landmarks with her like a tourist. In all the attractions, I noticed they had patches but I held myself back from buying them because what was I going to do with them? I had decided to stick to countries and not cities, so going as granular with attractions wasn’t going to happen. And then Meg dropped the mic so hard on me that I will forever thank her for the best idea of all time:
- I could have one patch jacket for countries
- Then a second patch jacket for all my fandoms and favorite things
- A third patch jacket to represent my time in London and all the big landmarks I visit while I’m here
- And a fourth jacket of US states and cities, because after living there for 16 years I have a few that deserve their own spotlight
Yes. YES. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!! Meghan the Enlightened is my new name for her. This was it. It was the perfect solution to all of my silly dilemmas, and it gave me the perfect excuse to continue going wild in my quest for patches.
A few months later, I’m sitting here with my country jacket at 29 patches (I added Scotland to the new places visited in December), missing only Honduras and Colombia. I designed my Colombia patch, but I don’t have the patience to make that one my self and I think some of my friends may want it, so I’m thinking about ordering it in bulk and posting all the extra ones to my Etsy shop, bringing back my creative outlet and a small passive income on the side. My “favorite things” jacket is also slowly but surely filling up. I’ll also be making a few patches for this one. My London jacket is unfortunately bare at the moment as Meaghan’s stellar idea came after we had visited most attractions, and I was waiting to go back eventually with other visitors that came, but then a global pandemic hit so that plan is on hold at the moment… and I have not purchased my U.S. states and cities jacket yet, but I have already gotten some patches for that one.
As you may be able to tell, I’m BEYOND excited for this new collectible tradition/hobby/skill I have acquired, and I can’t wait to keep sharing my journey with it. I hope more people see the wonder of patches as souvenirs, as they’re literally perfect: lightweight, almost paper thin, usually very cheap, and depending on the garment or accessory you put them on, you can carry them with you everywhere you go. My country patch jacket is basically a walking representation of my passport, and I will cherish it forever.
Stay tuned to my Instagram as I’ll be posting a lot of the patches I’ve made and will continue to make, and also follow my Etsy shop to be notified when I come back from hiatus and post the new patches I’ll be designing! None of the patches I post to Etsy will be made by hand, as the task is extremely time consuming and it’s simply impossible to make it a sustainable handcrafted sale item.
If you have any suggestions whatsoever to help me improve my embroidery (which has gotten loads better since the Guacardo days, I promise!), or design ideas, or any questions at all, please leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂